rusq: Vol. 51 Issue 3: p. 298
Sources: World and Its Peoples: Sub-Saharan Africa, Australasia, and the Pacific
Kristin J. Henrich

Kristin J. Henrich, Reference Coordinator, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho

World and Its Peoples: Sub-Saharan Africa, Australasia, and the Pacific bills itself as a “new kind of geography encyclopedia . . . it describes not only the land—with its geology, climate, flora, and fauna—but also the historical and ethnic dimensions underlying the modern nations that exist today” (5). This 11-volume set is part of a larger series of encyclopedias, comprising a total of 57 volumes that aspire to provide a comprehensive picture of our global landscape. An ambitious goal, but in this set at least, one that falls short.

The primary problem facing this encyclopedia is that it is too complex to serve as a basic introduction to either the geography or the peoples of the regions covered. For that, users would do better consulting Ember and Ember's Countries and Their Cultures (Macmillan, 2001) or the World Factbook (CIA, 2008). Yet it is simultaneously too simplistic in its discussion of complex issues to serve as a comprehensive overview of the subject: users in search of more in-depth research should consult encyclopedias such as John Middleton's seminal Encyclopedia of Africa South of the Sahara (Scribners, 1997) or Susan Bambrick's Cambridge Encyclopedia of Australia (Cambridge, 1994).

Each volume of World and Its Peoples: Sub-Saharan Africa, Australasia, and the Pacific covers a specific region; examples include “Congo Basin and Angola,” “New Zealand and Polynesia,” and “West African Coast.” Coverage in each volume begins with a discussion of the geographical, historical, and cultural facets of a region, and is followed by an entry for each country whose borders fall within that region. Each country overview is further divided by sections such as “Government,” “Modern History,” “Cultural Expression,” “Daily Life,” and “Economy.” The volumes are paginated sequentially, and each volume contains its own index and brief list of resources for further reading, organized thematically. The final volume, “Indexes,” features a comprehensive index and reading list, along with several thematic indexes and a glossary. Perhaps most helpful in this volume are the comparative tables, which feature normalized measures and highlight topics such as trade, transportation, and communication.

Entries, while informative and detailed, suffer from fragmentation and do not leave the reader with a holistic picture of the topic discussed. For example, the “Geography and Climate” entry in volume 10, “Eastern Africa,” discusses geographical landmarks such as the “Somali Tablelands” and the “Ethiopian Rift” (438–40), yet does not specifically identify these features on corresponding maps. Similarly, an entry for the “History and Movement of Peoples” in volume 1, “Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea,” covers the Kanem-Bornu Empire, the Yoruba States, the Kingdom of Benin, and the Hausa States (28–37) individually, where additional context and an overarching discussion of the relationships between ruling groups would have been welcome. Region discussions in particular would benefit from historical maps and additional visual aids, such as a timeline or chronology, to tie thematic elements together.

Recommended for libraries that have both the funding to purchase such a resource and a correlating gap in their collections.



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